Diana/Diane

Diana and Her Nymphs

Full image.


Boar Hunting Scene

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Fishing Scene

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Léon Davent
French, active ca. 1450–1560
after Francesco Primaticcio
Italian, 1504–1570
Diana and Her Nymphs Hunting a Stag
Boar Hunting Scene
Fishing Scene
Etchings, 1547
Gift of Theodore B. Donson, Class of 1960

 

These three etchings in oval format were made after designs by Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570), who arrived in France in 1534 to help the Florentine painter Rosso Fiorentino with the decoration of the royal palace at Fontainebleau, near Paris. Primaticcio received his training in Mantua with Raphael’s most famous pupil, Giulio Romano, and so was skilled in the conception of interior decorative projects. Primaticcio brought to Fontainebleau a more graceful and pleasing style than that of Rosso, and was much more prolific in the production of sketches and designs, hundreds of which were engraved by French artists working at the Fontainebleau, such as Léon Davent, an artist whose name appears in the building records of the palace at Fontainebleau during the 1530’s.

 

We know little about the intended placement of these designs. However, the fact that both the boar hunt and the stag hunt—normally land-based activities—are shown taking place in water along with the fishing scene, may further indicate that all three were designed to decorate some part of the château where water was prevalent. Suggestions include the Appartement des Bains, the king’s bath chambers, where they might have been seen along with the goddesses recorded in three of the other prints in this exhibition. In any case, these etchings certainly preserve for us the ambience of Fontainebleau and its most sacred activity, the hunt. Fontainebleau was, first and foremost, a hunting lodge where François I could indulge in his primary passion.

 

In François’s time, the game-rich forest of Fontainebleau was hailed as the domain of Diana, the goddess of the hunt, and her nymphs, who can be seen dispatching a stag in the topmost of the three etchings. Even the gabled buildings in the background of this etching and the fishing scene resemble, but do not directly mimic, the complex of the château of Fontainebleau, as you can see by comparing them with the aerial view of the château in the case behind you. During the reign of François’s son, Henri II, such images would have taken on a more specific symbolism, given the volume of Diana-related imagery Henri devoted to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Like her namesake, Diane was a formidable hunter and rider well into old age.